CHEESECAKE SQUARES

I developed a version of this recipe a number of years ago when I was dieting and had an intense desire for cheesecake. I made it then, as I still do, using reduced fat (“light”) organic cream cheese and sour cream and part-skim ricotta. I don’t really notice any difference in texture or flavour. (There was a big difference, however, when I used non-fat Greek yogurt and Quark in place of the sour cream and ricotta. I would not recommend this.) Since I like to use organic ingredients, I purchase organic graham crackers, ginger snap cookies, or even plain chocolate cookies and crush them in the food processor to make my own crumbs for the base. You’ll need about 7 ounces (200 grams) of graham crackers or cookies to make 1 ½ cups of crumbs.

Makes 18 squares

1½ cups graham cracker crumbs

¾ cup granulated sugar

½ cup (1/4 pound) melted unsalted butter or coconut oil

1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 cup sour cream

¼ tsp ground cardamom or cinnamon, optional

¼ tsp kosher salt

1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together the graham cracker crumbs and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Stir in the melted butter. With your fingers, spread the graham cracker mixture evenly over the bottom of the prepared pan. Pat the mixture down firmly.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl using a hand mixer), add the cream cheese and the remaining sugar. Beat until smooth. Add the eggs, ricotta, sour cream, cardamom (if using), salt, lemon juice and vanilla. Beat at low speed until thoroughly combined.

Pour the cream cheese mixture evenly over the crust in the pan, and then spread the mixture evenly across the pan. Bake in a 350º F oven until the centre of the cake (about a 3-inch section) is still slightly liquidy, but the surrounding area is firm, when the pan is gently shaken, about 22 to 27 minutes. (The cheesecake will appear to be under-baked. Don’t worry; it’s not.) Place the pan on a cooling rack for 15 minutes and then transfer it to the refrigerator to cool, uncovered, for at least 2 hours before serving. Cut into squares and serve with rhubarb compote (recipe follows), if desired.

RHUBARB COMPOTE

6 to 8 cups (1½ to 2 pounds) fresh or frozen chopped rhubarb

½ cup maple sugar, coconut sugar or brown sugar, plus more if needed

¼ cup mango juice, orange juice or water

1 cinnamon stick or ¼ tsp ground cinnamon (preferably Ceylon cinnamon) or ¼ tsp ground cardamom, optional

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, combine the rhubarb, sugar, juice and cinnamon stick (if using). Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 5 minutes. Uncover the pan, stir the compote, and cook until the rhubarb is soft and the mixture is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the vanilla. Cool for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust sweetness as desired, bearing in mind that the compote will taste a bit sweeter when chilled. Remove the cinnamon stick.  Transfer the compote to a container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. The compote will thicken as it cools.  Serve with cake, layered in a parfait with whipped cream or Greek-style yogurt, or atop ice cream or frozen yogurt. It’s also great as an accompaniment to roasted or grilled meats.

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